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Greek Aid for Kurd Leader Ran Out

February 16, 1999

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan left Kenya the same way he arrived: in a haze of mystery and covert planning.

Hunted across the map by Turkey, Ocalan had been dropping in and out of sight since leaving Italy on Jan. 16, and for the past two weeks there was plenty of speculation over his movements, but no proven traces.

Now accounts from sources in Kenya and across Europe begin to add shape to the scenario of how a Greek effort to protect him disintegrated into an embarrassing fiasco.

Turkey _ Greece’s regional rival _ announced Tuesday it had captured its most-wanted fugitive. Reportedly imprisoned on a deserted Turkish island, Ocalan awaits trial on terrorism charges for his role as leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and its 15-year fight for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. More than 37,000 people have died in the conflict.

Earlier this month, Greece stepped in where few countries dared, risking Turkey’s wrath by attempting to find political asylum for Ocalan.

Ocalan was secretly taken to the residence of the Greek ambassador in Nairobi, Kenya, after his private plane was allowed to refuel in Greece on Feb. 2, officials said. Kenya’s foreign minister, Bonaya Godana, accused Greece of bringing in Ocalan and several aides under false names and forged passports.

Amid a worldwide media hunt for Ocalan, Greek officials stridently denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.

During that time, Greece was holding discussions ``with neighboring (African) countries that could possibly give him political asylum,″ said Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos.

But Ocalan was apparently chafing at the measured pace of diplomacy to find him shelter.

He began to contact Kenyan officials and his attorneys, Greek officials said. He spoke on the telephone and took walks around the grounds of the ambassador’s compound, where bougainvillea and crimson flowers spill over the surrounding walls.

Ocalan’s openness made the Greeks nervous. Word was bound to leak out that they were sheltering Ocalan _ a revelation that they feared could trigger a war with Turkey.

``Ocalan did not take the necessary security measures,″ said Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas.

It all came to a head last weekend, said a lawyer for Ocalan who visited him in Kenya.

On Saturday, a team led by Greek Ambassador Giorgos Kostoulas presented him with the options of continuing to hide out on a farm in Kenya, or take shelter in a Greek church, said attorney Failos Kranidiotis. Ocalan also was told he could go to another African country, but no firm agreements on political asylum had yet been reached, he said.

One of Ocalan’s aides, frustrated at more delays, took out a gun and threatened suicide unless the Greeks found a haven for her rebel leader.

``The officials got scared because there were guns,″ said Kranidiotis. ``He had to leave.″

Ocalan came back with his demands: a false passport, money and a plane. About the same time late Saturday, the PKK issued an international appeal for political asylum.

Ocalan’s final hours of liberty are murky with conflicting details.

The Greek government says Ocalan left the compound to fly to the Netherlands, where they claim he was going to make a bid for asylum.

``He did this on his own and against our advice,″ Pangalos said.

Pangalos said embassy personnel followed Ocalan’s motorcade, but then Ocalan’s car took a sudden turn. ``Then we lost him,″ said Pangalos.

A Kenyan security guard at the residence gave a different account. The guard, speaking on condition of anonymity, said men in Kenyan government vehicles forcibly removed three men from the compound Monday evening.

The guard was not sure if Ocalan was among the men hauled away. But a car carrying the ambassador followed the convoy, he said. The ambassador later returned home in a taxi.

In the Netherlands, another scenario emerged. Ocalan’s attorney, Britta Bohler, said Ocalan was dragged out of the Greek Embassy in Nairobi on Monday and put on a plane to Turkey.

How did Ocalan finally end up in the hands of his enemies?

No one, not even the Turks, immediately offered to fill in the picture.

Pangalos said he has demanded answers from the United States, which has close ties with Turkey and an extensive intelligence network in Kenya since the Aug. 7 bombing of its embassy in Nairobi. A White House spokesman denied any U.S. role.

Some suggestions bring in Israel, which has a military pact with Turkey. An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement flatly denied any involvement.

In Greece, some Ocalan supporters lamented the impression that Greece’s helping hand may have eventually tripped up the PKK leader.

``Instead of protecting him we betrayed him,″ said Costas Badouvas, a parliament member for the governing Socialists.

``I feel nationally guilty,″ added Andonis Naxakis, a retired military officer who brought Ocalan to Greece from Russia on his private plane on Jan. 30 for a one-night stay. ``That will always follow me.″

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